I’ve been travelling a great deal in the past few weeks, work has taken me to Gloucestershire, Dorset, Kent and West Sussex, which has involved a lot of driving. Last week I went to see a very interesting house in York and I found myself, for once, not in the car but on a train.
This journey was one of the most pleasant I have had in years, everything went right; the trains were all on time, all spotlessly clean and not too crowded. The weather was marvellous. It was cold and clear and mostly very sunny. We even travelled beneath two enormous rainbows somewhere just north of Doncaster and I was, quite literally, transported!
I have always loved traveling by train. My parents never learned to drive, so most childhood outings I remember involved passing through one of London’s grand termini. E.M Froster summed it up beautifully in his novel ‘Howards End’; “They are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them, alas! we return”. The romance of rail travel is still very strong for me. I can’t imagine feeling the same about the Newport Pagnell Services on the M1 as I do about Kings Cross.
Howards End is one of my favourite books and I must have read it three or four times, as one of the central characters in the book is a house, it has a certain appeal. As well as the passing out of London and the magic of not being stuck in traffic, the other great appeal of the train is the view it gives you of the surrounding country. I was struck by the fact that from a train England seems far more rural than when viewed from the motorway and even when passing through towns and cities by train you have a very different view compared to the one from the road. You see almost all of the houses from the back, their gardens, their garages and sheds, endless trampolines festooned with winter leaves, old cars and caravans in pieces on weed-strewn driveways, nearly all of the houses showing you the face that was never designed to be admired. This is fascinating to me and always reminds me of the famous Victorian illustration of crowded terraces and railway arches. Seeing a house from the back reveals so much about the personality of the building and its owners. I’m never bored on a train.